When you're looking to give your core a little extra work at the gym (or in front of your favorite Netflix show), chances are, you've got a go-to repertoire of ab exercises. But while you probably think you've got 'em nailed after all this time, there are still some form mistakes you might be making.
It can be easy to get used to faulty patterns without realizing it, whether you've done an exercise twice or 200 times. And it's not just you—in fact, some of the most popular and common core exercises around have some sneaky traps that anyone can fall into.
At best, these mistakes mean you're not getting the most out of every rep (and if you're setting aside time to focus on your core, you don't want to waste it). At worst, though, doing abs exercises improperly can lead to pain or injury in other parts of your body, like your neck or lower back.
So if you ever feel like your core isn't really working during those side planks or your back aches you after leg raises, it might be time to reevaluate your form to make sure every set is both effective and pain-free. Here are seven common abs exercises you might be doing wrong, and how to fix them.
Done right, planks are one of the most effective abs exercises around. But the most common mistake is easy to fall into—literally. Over-arching or dropping into your back lets your core off the hook, which means you won't see the results you're after. Plus, it often leads to lower back pain. "It causes a lack of engagement of the abs muscles and puts strain onto the lumbar vertebrae," explains FitFusion trainer Kenta Seki, C.P.T. It's also easy to drop your weight into your shoulders, which creates strain.
The fix: If you can't help but arch your back in a full plank, build up your core strength by bringing it back to basics. "Begin with a modified forearm plank by dropping to the knees and tucking the tailbone, allowing the abdominal walls to engage," says Adriana Morrison, C.P.T., a trainer at Pura Vida Fitness & Spa in Denver, Colorado. Once you've got that down, you can lift up to a regular forearm plank or high plank, making sure you're keeping your abs engaged and not dropping into your back or shoulders.
For an exercise that's meant to target your obliques, it's actually pretty easy to cheat them out of the work they're supposed to be doing. "Russian twists are all about the rotation of your torso to target your internal obliques, but many people keep their torso facing forward and just move their arms side to side without rotating," explains Seki.
The fix: "Keep your elbows straight and focus on turning your entire torso as you twist, so that your shoulders are moving and not just your arms," says Seki. Make sure you're leaning back at about a 45-degree angle without rounding your back to keep your abs engaged, adds Morrison.
Tucking your chin to your chest and pulling on your neck is one of the biggest (and potentially most damaging) mistakes you can make during crunches. "What this does is put unnecessary strain on the neck vertebrae while decreasing the amount of oxygen you can intake while breathing," says Seki. Plus, it means you're not powering the movement with your core, adds Morrison (which defeats the purpose of the exercise).
The fix: Rather than interlacing your fingers, use them to lightly support your head while keeping your elbows pointed to the sides, or try folding your arms in front of your chest. Your chin should be up and away from your chest, says Seki. If that's easier said than done, Morrison has another solution. "[While] your fingers push pressure into the head, your head pushes equal pressure back to the fingers," says Morrison. "The two actions cancel each other out, reducing neck strain."
While you're lowering your legs back to the ground during leg raises, it's tempting to arch your lower back off the floor. "Not only does this make the exercise less effective, it can also lead to sciatic pain," says Seki. It's a lose-lose situation: Your abs aren't working like they should, and it can leave your lower back unhappy, too.
The fix: "When your legs are straight up in the air, focus on compressing your lower back down into the floor. As you begin to lower your legs, don’t let your lower back arch or come off the floor at all," says Seki. As soon as you can't lower your legs anymore without your back rising, stop there and lift your legs back up—that's your end point. "Not only is this safer for your lower back, it’s also way more effective at working your transverse abdominis," says Seki.
After gaining nearly 100lbs while suffering from PCOS, my journey to lose weight has finally ended and my love and appreciation for healthy but delicious food has just begun. This my story on how I lost nearly 90lbs while still completely indulging in life.